There are games tinged with strangeness and there are games that revel in oddity that make their way into mainstream gaming, but I recently discovered a developer that seems to have cornered the market on bafflingly bizarre mobile games. Usaya, a Japanese developer that has been working on small games for iOS and Android since 2013, thoroughly earns its title as weirdest mobile game developer. I took the last few days to play some of their most popular titles and here is what I found.
Like most of Usaya's library, their first game's name isn't officially translated on the app store, but Google's translation dubs it "Hiring Ado! 【Interview a cheap candidate! 】". The game text of Hiring Ado! was never translated into English either, so I learned everything about it purely through trial and error. The basic premise has players interviewing candidates for a job and sorting the candidates as quickly as possible. However, some of the applicants are aliens and can't be allowed at work. The aliens are distinguished by their variety of vegetable, squid, mushroom, or typical green heads. Players have a set amount of time to get through candidates without hiring an alien or booting a human. The gameplay might be very simplistic, but the visuals will, uh, certainly stick with you.
The second game in Usaya's mobile lineup feels perhaps the closest to what a normal mobile game might be. The title translates roughly to "Chikuwa cat ~ Cute new sense with super surreal, free Nyanko game ~" and that's a pretty apt description of the game itself. Chikuwa is a Japanese food roll, and Usaya's chikuwa cat jumps from chikuwa roll to chikuwa roll. Players must try to go through as many rolls as possible, timing their jumps perfectly, before running out of lives. A boss encounter occurs every so often in which the titular chikuwa cat must smack into the boss a few times before continuing. The minimalist presentation definitely sets it apart from Hiring Ado!, while the gameplay reminds me of jumping from barrel to barrel in Donkey Kong Country.
So far, you might be thinking that these aren't terribly odd. The alien game was a bit weird, but this second game seemed relatively normal. Strap yourselves in, dear reader, because we are about to go a bit silly.
Have you ever dreamed of saving cute, little rabbits horrifically trapped inside of empty milk bottles? Then Usaya's "Usagi and milk bottle" is the game for you! Players have a set amount of time to swipe the screen, pulling cartoon rabbits out of their glass prisons. Use caution while saving those animals, however, because someone has left live grenades in a few of the milk jars! If you throw them in with all the rabbits... well... no one wants that to happen. There are also small humans and human-bunny hybrids that have found themselves in the same predicament as the rabbits? I think they might give point bonuses or extend the remaining time, but I'm not entirely sure since everything is in Japanese. It's such an odd concept, but the visuals come across as so endearing that it just makes you give a bemused smile.
Usaya's fourth game, Daikon Joshi, has a very simple, straightforward description in the app store: "In this action game you play as a high school girl who climbs up a radish." That is exactly what the game is about. I don't know why or for what purpose, but the world this high school girl inhabits houses radishes of increasing height. Players make her climb each radish by tapping on the screen. Reaching the top in record time is made more difficult by obstacles like protruding radish roots. It's... um... quite something. I don't know whether to laugh or be subtly creeped out by it.
All of these are nothing, however, to the crown jewel and most recent game in Usaya's growing library of peculiarities.
My Horse Prince
I honestly don't know what to write about My Horse Prince, but it is both the weirdest thing Usaya has made and, as far as I can tell, its most popular game. As opposed to the touch-control gameplay of all their previous titles, Usaya opted to make My Horse Prince a narrative-focused visual novel. The plot follows a girl who goes out to a horse ranch one day to meet cute boys and discovers that she has a strange disease that makes her see human faces on horses and gives her the ability to speak with and understand them. Aaaaaand she finds the horse she is sucked into buying cute instead of mind-numbingly horrifying like a normal person.
The reviews of My Horse Prince are overwhelmingly positive. One user by the name of Devin Spencer wrote, "This is the worst game I have ever played. I love it." Another described it as "a hot mess of fun and questionable ideas," and that's a great way of describing it. Usaya clearly meant My Horse Prince to be a comedy poking fun at the visual novel genre and how ridiculous some of the games in it can be - I'm looking at you, Hatoful Boyfriend. There are a few laughs both genuine and nervous to be had in the writing, but I'm not sure how many people can overcome the deeply disturbing human-faced horse.
Remember when I said My Horse Prince was Usaya's most popular game? It was so popular that they went back and gave it an update that added three new chapters to the original ten. Let that sink in: My Horse Prince is now a thirteen chapter long visual novel game about a woman who falls in love with a horse.
More than anything else, My Horse Prince solidifies Usaya's place as the weirdest mobile developer. I'm glad they're out there being the wild card of the mobile gaming space because some developer has to take that title and own it. All their games are free on the Android and iOS app stores, though some include microtransactions to remove ads.
Where does Usaya go from here? I have absolutely no idea, but chances are their next project will be completely unexpected and jaw-droppingly strange.